Drone technology service providing crop analytics wins MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

Farm Forum

Cambridge, MA — Raptor Maps, a startup building and operating drone technology with the goal of feeding a growing world population, was awarded the Robert P. Goldberg $100,000 grand prize on May 14 after beating out seven other finalist teams during the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Launch Finale held on the MIT campus.

This year’s teams of finalists –whose offerings included, among others, underwater robots and new technology for treating inoperable tumors– emerged from a pool of 194 competing teams. A panel of judges made up of venture capitalists, serial entrepreneurs, and industry professionals said they chose Raptor Maps based on the strength of their technology, business plan, pitch, and team composition.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker kicked off this year’s finale by presenting a proclamation declaring May 14, 2015 as Entrepreneurship Day in honor of the MIT $100K’s 25th anniversary. Key note speakers were MIT Professor Robert Langer, an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur and inventor who holds more than 1,060 granted or pending patents; and Jason Fuller, principal at NEA, a global venture capital firm.

The Raptor Map co-founders, all of which are engaged in NASA research to help transport humans to Mars, are:

• Nikhil Vadhavkar, PhD candidate, MIT Health Sciences and Technology

• Forrest Meyen, PhD candidate, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics

• Edward Obropta, PhD candidate, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, agriculture is the largest industry in the world. Yet a staggering one-third of all crops planted annually are destroyed by diseases, pests, and insects.

Raptor Maps uses proprietary multispectral imaging that scans large areas of farmland and, with the use of analytics, pinpoints crop damage before pests and diseases can spread. This enables focused pesticide application, which increases crop yields while reducing environmental impact.

“The seeds for Raptor Maps were planted in July 2014 during a NASA-funded planetary geology expedition in Idaho,” says Vadhavkar, who previously led a team with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to use drones to deliver emergency medical supplies in developing nations. “Forrest and I found that the resolution of satellite data was too low. But drone technology provided critical data within the same day.”

Initially, he said, the founders thought about selling their drone system. “But by engaging with farmers and other clients, we realized they cared far more about obtaining data than operating drones,” says Vadhavkar. “Now, with the help of the MIT $100K Competition, we will be able to deliver our services where they are needed the most.”

Raptor Maps also shared a $6,000 Thomas-Reuters Data Prize with fellow finalist Quorum, which offers an online legislative strategy platform that provides unique quantitative insights into how the U.S. Congress votes.

Another MIT $100K finalist, Emerald, won both a $10,000 AARP Foundation Prize and the $1,000 Audience Choice Award. Emerald’s stand-alone device is built with patented and award-winning technology developed at MIT that uses wireless signals to monitor and analyze movement in a house to detect falls among seniors without the need for any wearables such as pendants.

Debuting in 1990 as the MIT $10K Entrepreneurship Competition, it quickly matured into one of the largest and most well-known business plan competitions in the world. Today it remains an economic barometer on what new ideas are being funded by venture capitalists.

To date, the MIT $100K has facilitated the birth of more than 160 companies, which have gone on to raise $1.3 billion in venture capital and build $16 billion in market capitalization. More than 30 MIT $100K startups have been acquired by major companies, such as Oracle and Merck. Over 4,600 people are currently employed by MIT $100K companies. Recent IPOs include Akamai (AKAM), net.Genesis (NTG), and C-Bridge Internet Solutions (CBIS).

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